It is not easy to write a first book and more than that it is not easy to write a first serious book. It probably takes more energy out of you than anything else and that is a fact. I received the copy of Bijoya Sawian’s “Shadow Men” by Penguin a few days ago and I did not stop reading it till I finished it. The reason I mention this is it does not seem like a first book.
The book is set in Shillong – the present day Shillong and starts with a murder witnessed by the protagonist – who hears gunshots and sees three men in the house opposite hers and then they are gone. Like a flash – out of sight. Raseel is the protagonist, who throughout the book is searching for her answers. The victim was a stranger to the city and its populants – a Dkhar and from there the story begins.
I am never surprised at xenophobia. It is so prevalent in everything we do and say. And once again it leads me to my basic question: Why this inherent fear? The book touches on every aspect of alienation – from development in a small city to insurgency to calling a place home and its aftermath and that strikes a deep chord somewhere.
Shillong comes across as the hero of the story – the paradise that it once was and no longer. The author successfully captures the mood, the weather, the people, and the place in her prose. Though at some point I did get lost with the historical narrative in the middle of the book and managed to get myself around it. One doesn’t know the time in which the novel is set and that is a good thing for the book as the reader is more involved.
All in all Shadow men will jolt you and make you see things differently. It is unlike any other book I have read in a long time and you will love it too.
Shadow Men; Sawian, Bijoya; Penguin India; Rs. 199